Lessons in Sundar Pichai’s Rise to the Top

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Spoiler alert: a good education and a fire in the belly goes a long way!

Sundar Pichai, Google’s young CEO from Chennai, is an inspiration to many. His commitment to the democratization of technology across the globe is driven by his life experiences, which allow him to see opportunities where others don’t. His rise to the top exhibits a quiet determination and an unmoving focus on improving the lives of people through technology.

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The Steep Climb to the Top

Sundar Pichai’s path to the Silicon Valley started from a small house in Ashok Nagar, Chennai.

The Pichais’ lived a simple life, sharing a two-bedroom home among the four of them. The family didn’t have a car or a television, and only got a telephone when Sundar was 12 years old.

When the family brought a refrigerator home, Pichai’s mother’s life changed dramatically. She no longer had to cook food every single day. Instead, she could store cooked food and fresh vegetables in the fridge, without fear of them getting spoilt. Freed from hours spent in the kitchen, she suddenly had more time to spend with her family.

Seeing the revolutionary impact technology had on his family’s life gave root to Pichai’s own lasting relationship with technology. It also shaped his ethos: technology can, and should, benefit everyone. This belief continues to underpin all of Pichai’s actions.

Sundar Pichai Education: An Unshakable Foundation

Pichai’s educational journey undoubtedly guided his professional one. He is an alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, where he completed his Bachelor in Engineering in the field of Metallurgical Engineering. Later, he pursued an MS in Material Sciences and Engineering from Stanford University. He capped off his already impressive educational journey with an MBA from the Wharton School, where he was a Siebel as well as a Palmer Scholar. Sundar Pichai’s education took place in India and the United States, where he gained the knowledge he needed.

From Employee to CEO

Pichai launched his career working with Applied Materials, before joining the management consultancy firm, McKinsey and Company.

In 2004, he joined Google as a Product Manager and oversaw product development. While user experience may be the “in” thing in the tech world today, it has been the focus of Pichai’s work all along.

One of Pichai’s most successful — and challenging — projects was Google Chrome.

Despite intense scepticism and fear about taking on the then-dominant Internet Explorer, Pichai resolutely committed to the development of Chrome and convinced co-founder, Larry Page, to launch the revolutionary browser in 2008. Today, Chrome commands 60% of the market share while Internet Explorer holds on to a measly 16%.

Pichai is the brains behind many of the programs and services we love and use every day.

Pichai’s Google Charts its Own Course

Given that all of Pichai’s projects furthered the company’s mission to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” he was the natural — and popular — choice for CEO.

Pichai may not fit the mould of the “ruthless CEO,” but he definitely embodies Google’s ethos and approach to technology.

As CEO, Pichai oversees several products with more than one billion users each YouTube, Android, Gmail, Chrome, Maps and Google Play Store are just some of them. Android alone has over 2 billion users across the globe!

What Makes a Sundar Pichai?

Pichai told Jemima Kiss of The Guardian, “We don’t build only Google products and services. We build an underlying platform too, so that when you enable smartphones to work well in a country, you also bootstrap the entrepreneurial system there. The two go hand in hand.”

It is interesting to consider whether an all-American CEO would have the same understanding of the opportunities technology presents to those in developing countries. It is unlikely that they would.

Pichai is one of many middle-class Indians who has personally seen the transformative effects of technology on people, businesses and countries.

Having greatly benefitted from the democratization of technology himself, it is no surprise that his goal is to “make Android so cheap that it can be used as part of a $30 smartphone.”

Pichai’s vision is part of a global movement welcomed in countries like Rwanda, where the production of the first smartphone is underway. These cheap phones, when coupled with 4G LTE capabilities, have the power to transform entire economies.

As CEO of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, Pichai is in the position to drive tremendous and lasting change through the products and services his company develops. And it is clear that he takes his role seriously. Already his actions are creating opportunities and expanding markets in developed and developing countries alike.

Carving Your Own Path to Success

A strong educational background is a given for any measure of professional success.

It also opens the doors to a job with any of the big tech giants. CNN reported that to work for companies like Facebook, Twitter, Air BnB and Google, you need a Masters in any one of the in-demand fields of the day — computer science, infrastructure, management or software development. At 36%, Google has the highest number of employees with a PhD compared to Facebook’s 11% (around 13% of the US population have advanced degrees, according to US Census data on educational attainment.)

Pichai’s remarkable rise demonstrates not just the benefits of a good education, but the power of grabbing every opportunity that comes your way. His story is proof that hard work, built on a strong educational foundation and fuelled by life experiences, can help you carve your own path to success.

Check out also characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.

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